As a stand-up commentator, I rarely work the comedy-club circuit, preferring to appear at more offbeat venues. Several years ago, I performed at the Starwood Festival (“a Magickal, psychedelic & multi-cultural event”) in Sherman, New York–Amish country on the border near Ohio and Pennsylvania–on private campgrounds, where clothing was optional. Many women were bare-breasted, and several men and women were fully naked, a practice known as “going skyclad.”
On the outdoor pavilion stage, my opening line was: “I’m gonna start with two words that have been thought year after year at these festivals, but which have never actually been utterred out loud, and those two words are, ‘Nice tits.’ ” The audience hesitated a nanosecond, because in that context this could be a politically incorrect observation–I had deliberately taken that chance–but then they laughed and applauded, because they knew it was true.
The annual Starwood Festivals have been presented by the Cleveland-based Association for Consciousness Exploration, a group of about thirty friends. ACE’s co-directors, Jeff Rosenbaum and Joe Rothenberg, were both raised in traditional Jewish homes. Rosenbaum’s parents were Holocaust survivors. He calls himself a pantheistic social libertarian with a psychedelic spiritual orientation.
“Everything is explored by altering it,” he says. “The way you explore temperature is by seeing how different temperatures affect something. The way you explore pressure is by changing the pressure to see how that affects different things. The way you study consciousness is by changing your consciousness.”
The first event was on a weekend, attended by 185 people, with twenty presentations and a bonfire built from an old split-rail fence. This July marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Starwood; the weeklong event drew 1,600, with 150 presentations and twenty musical and theatrical performances. I attended several workshops, including “Shamans and Drugs” by Stanley Krippner, a psychology professor at Saybrook Institute, psychic researcher and co-author of Dream Telepathy. A member of the Rainforest Action Network, he mentioned a Brazilian tribe, the Guarani, whose members have hanged themselves from endangered trees. I related my participation at an ayahuasca ceremony in Ecuador where the shaman’s shrine included a sealed-beam headlight from an old Buick and a gray clamshell-like item that opens up, revealing a head of the Virgin Mary that can be used as a Jell-o mold.
Krippner’s explanation provided the missing link between indigenous shamans and contemporary politicians: “They take power from wherever they can find it.” Krippner and his colleagues once turned down the CIA’s offer of funding for their dream-telepathy work because of the Vietnam War, while other friends in remote-viewing projects accepted “tons of CIA money.”